Our Opinion: Virus strikes a cruel blow in North Adams

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The winnowing of Crane Stationery’s workforce next month constitutes a devastating blow to the North Adams economy. It is also a psychological blow to the Berkshires, as Crane Stationery’s roots go back more than two centuries in the county.

The company split off from Crane & Co. in Dalton, which makes the nation’s currency paper, in 2015, and three years later was purchased by Mohawk Fine Papers of Cohoes, N.Y.

The announcement of Crane Stationery’s “winding down” came Wednesday in an email to the company’s 270 employees from CEO Dean Daigle. The company chose not to give a heads-up to city officials, leaving Mayor Tom Bernard scrambling to catch up and try to make a case for reconsideration. (“Crane Stationery to close North Adams plant,” Thursday.)

It appears that Crane Stationery’s struggles are in large part related to the COVID-19 pandemic that is raising havoc in Berkshire, Massachusetts and national economies. Company officials, who only a year ago spoke of ambitious plans to expand and invest told employees in the email that the bankruptcy filing of their largest customer, Papyrus, was a major factor in the decision, but went on to cite the “enormous losses” caused by the pandemic, losses that could not be foreseen and proved to be “unsustainable.”

The company’s manufacturing and delivery operations were shut down in March as nonessential under the directive from Gov. Charlie Baker.

Crane Stationery traces its roots to the papermaking plant built by Zenas Crane in 1801.

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For decades its elegant stationery was regarded as among the finest, if not the finest, in the industry, the paper of choice for wedding invitations and other special occasions.

The advent of email, however, led to declines in revenue and prompted the sale to Mohawk five years ago.

City officials, North Adams state Rep. John Barrett III and the rest of the Berkshire legislative delegation can be counted on to seek whatever assistance the Crane employees will need beginning next month.

The employees, however, will join many others out of work across the commonwealth seeking help from a besieged employment assistance system.

This is a cruel blow to a North Adams that has been economically fragile for years, and whose business and political leaders have been exploring a variety of ways to build stable employment.

Sadly, this is also one of many economic blows that this cruel coronavirus will inflict, along with the human toll it takes. North Adams has proven to be a resilient community, and that resilience will be tested again.


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